Worker Training Program

The following descriptions of successful applications for current "SBIR E-Learning for HAZMAT and Emergency Response Requests for Applications" were provided by the applicants.

Agile Development of Innovative, Interactive Hazard Recognition and Mitigation Tools/Learning e-Platforms for Workers Involved in Disaster Rescue and Recovery

Application Number Principal Investigator Company
5 R44 ES030580-03 McLaughlin, Jeffery Radiant Creative Group, LLC 
5 R44 ES030580-03 Perkison, William Brett Radiant Creative Group, LLC 

Workers involved in post-flood reconstruction face an increased risk of occupational exposure to respiratory and other safety hazards as well as threats to their personal security (i.e., exploitation, wage theft, and wage discrimination). Post-flood reconstruction is often handled by day laborers who are predominantly non-English speaking and who have limited access to safety training and personal protective equipment. As flooding events increase in frequency and intensity, there is a critical need to develop tools to help these workers mitigate threats to their safety and wellbeing. To address this need, the interdisciplinary team of this Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program have been developing and refining Pocket Ark (PA), a comprehensive e-learning platform for workers in post-flood reconstruction. Their goal in Phase II is to develop the next generation of PA’s e-learning platform to disseminate critical information about hazards to workers prior to deploy it to a post-flood worksite. Project aims include updating the PA platform and conducting a high- fidelity simulated disaster response scenario to train 64 workers and evaluate the program’s efficacy. As an outcome, Phase II is expected to yield a production-ready e-learning platform that: 1) delivers quality, audience-appropriate training to workers; 2) disseminates real-time information about potential on-site hazards; 3) improves logistics between workers and coordinating organizations; and 4) provides tools to reduce wage theft and other security risks. The anticipated outcome of PA is significant in that it addresses multiple dimensions of worker safety unique to this worker population.    


Enabling Realistic HAZMAT Training Simulations with the PerSim(TM) Augmented Reality Patient Simulator

Application Number Principal Investigator Company
5 R44 ES030578-03 Baig, Sohail Medcognition, Inc.

Although patient simulators have demonstrated improved learning outcomes in medical training, there is a significant lack of realism. Thus, they do not effectively provoke a realistic emotional response in trainees. This significantly limits their educational value to the emergency medical service (EMS) training agencies as does – in the case of mannequins – their cost, reliance on electricity, and lack of portability. To address these significant limitations of the current medical patient simulators, the PI has developed PerSim™, a patient simulator using augmented reality (AR) and currently a product offered by the PI's company. However, additional research and development is needed to effectively support HAZMAT training scenarios. Commercial Need: Based on interviews with individuals at training agencies within EMS agencies, HAZMAT training scenarios would be of significant value. Since being released in the fourth quarter of 2017, four sites have purchased PerSim™ for ~$20-30K each and are using the system for EMS training, effectively training over 100 trainees per year. Moreover, the PI has a joint marketing agreement with Microsoft, which boosts the company's marketing efforts. Preliminary Data: The PI has developed PerSim™, an AR-based patient simulator. Via the Microsoft HoloLens AR display, the system projects high-resolution, realistic animations of a patient onto any surface a trainee chooses, such as a low-fidelity mannequin as a physical reference for haptic input during procedures. The instructor uses a handheld tablet as both a controller for the simulation and an automated assessment system to track trainee performance. The system utilizes another tablet to act as a defibrillator and a physiologic monitor to provide real-time vital sign and heart rhythm data. The system's control interfaces and registration algorithms are provisionally patented. This project proposes to develop and evaluate HAZMAT training scenarios in the PI's innovative AR-based patient simulator, PerSim™. In Specific Aim 1, the PI will work with medical artists from UT Health and a HAZMAT expert co-I to create realistic scenarios and integrate them with the PerSim™ system. The PI plans to develop textures and animations based on the NFPA 472 Standard for Competence of Responders to Hazardous Materials, specifically poisonous gas (e.g., phosgene) inhalation, corrosive materials (e.g., a vesicular agent such as mustard), and poisonous materials (e.g., organophosphate). In Specific Aim 2, the PI will evaluate the realism of the HAZMAT scenarios through user studies with HAZMAT professionals as participants. The proposed research is relevant to public health because it enables more effective training of HAZMAT professionals, which will result in saving lives. This project is relevant to NIEHS's mission because it applies augmented reality in a novel approach to enhance the realism of HAZMAT simulation and training, thereby better preparing trainees for real scenarios.

HazMat Risk Management, Readiness and Training Platform

Application Number Principal Investigator Company
1R43ES035290-01 Ryng, Henry INXSOL, LLC

A unique aspect of hazardous material incidents is that they affect stakeholders in the community with different roles and priorities. Workers in facilities who regularly use or handle hazardous materials, transportation carriers, neighboring communities, first responders, and first receivers (health care workers) are all at risk of health impacts from hazardous materials. Communities can increase their resilience to a hazardous materials incident in several ways, including reducing the likelihood of a release, being prepared to respond to a potential release, and effectively responding if a release does occur. We believe technology advancements and new training strategies can better equip communities for risk reduction and the rapid and effective response to incidents. The technology advancements proposed will collectively cover the HazMat risk life cycle from a facilities prevention and risk management perspective, a first responders pre-planning specific to risks in their community and a HazMat Incident Command training platform. The proposed research aims to improve the first responder worker health and safety by advancing technologies enabling HazMat pre-planning with one or more what if scenarios that consider response, containment and protection of health and life integrated with a virtual trainer allowing for practice of the first arriving unit and HazMat team. The pre-plan and better readiness/trained responders has benefits at the community level and the business owner/workers at a facility with HazMat.

Immersive Modular Preparedness Intelligent Tutoring (IMPRINT)

Application Number Principal Investigator Company
5 R44 ES031818-03 Dr. E. Vincent Cross II Charles River Analytics, Inc. 
5 R44 ES031818-03 Dan Duggan  Charles River Analytics, Inc.

Instructors must deliver engaging, realistic, and immersive tabletop simulations at the conclusion of Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) recertification to support Hazardous Material (HAZMAT) worker and first responder safety and adherence to protocol in the field. This exercise often burdens instructors to deliver a paper or PowerPoint simulation that, although based on real events, fails to meaningfully engage or immerse trainees. When trainees fail to engage, they are putting themselves and others at risk by decreasing their ability to adhere to protocol when responding to HAZMAT incidents in the field. Therefore, emergency response training organizations require a cost-effective training solution that increases the realism and authenticity of tabletop simulations to better equip trainees to execute HAZWOPER safely and effectively when they are in the field.

Charles River Analytics, in partnership with The New England Consortium and Lt. Michael Kates of the Boston Fire Department, proposes to develop and evaluate an Immersive Modular Preparedness Intelligent Tutor (IMPRINT). IMPRINT aims to provide a robust, commercial, portable adaptive virtual reality (VR) solution that will be complemented by an intelligent virtual training system and development framework that actively improves trainees' ability to perform HAZWOPER procedures within a range of realistic field scenarios. IMPRINT will be an untethered intelligent tutoring system (ITS) using the Oculus Quest VR headset to provide an immersive, virtual training experience. With IMPRINT, trainees can apply complex, dangerous procedures in a safe, controlled environment through guided and immersive procedure rehearsal. In Phase II, we will produce a system that complements existing training with a production ready VR case study development suite and a library of VR case studies that replace standard paper and PowerPoint scenario-based activities used to prepare trainees for hands-on assessments and their final HAZWOPER qualification test. 

IMPRINT Confined Spaces

Application Number Principal Investigator Company
1R43ES035293-01 Cross, Ernest Vincent Charles River Analytics, Inc.
1R43ES035293-01 Duggan, Daniel J Charles River Analytics, Inc.

Workers are exposed to hazards in confined spaces at Superfund sites and waste treatment plants and during emergency or disaster response in ever increasingly complex scenarios due to climate change related challenges like infectious disease, heat, and flooding. There is a need for short, incident-specific awareness training that can be delivered using technology-enhanced training products to support the health and safety of workers exposed to known, emerging, and new hazards from climate change. Existing field training exercises (FTX) for confined spaces provide live operational readiness preparation to perform basic entry and rescue in a standard set of scenarios; however, they are limited in their ability to address the full range of health and safety threats facing workers. Therefore, emergency response training organizations need a cost-effective training solution that increases the stakes and authenticity of simulations to better equip trainees to remain safe and effective when they are in the field. We will extend Charles River’s existing hazardous material (HAZMAT) and hazardous waste operations and emergency response (HAZWOPER) training tool—developed with support from the National Institute Environmental Health Science Worker Trainer Program (NIEHS WTP) and our partnership with The New England Consortium—to design Immersive Modular Preparedness Tutor for Confined Spaces Training (IMPRINT Confined Spaces). IMPRINT Confined Spaces uses narrative case study adaptive training with a mixed reality experience that combines physical and virtual environments to increase the stakes, authenticity, and training scenarios available to training organizations. We will extend IMPRINT’s capabilities through the development of an intelligent tutoring system tailored to the needs of adult learners, providing a strong theoretical basis to our training system’s continued development. In IMPRINT Confined Spaces, Charles River Analytics will provide a portable, immersive, and intelligent mixed reality (MR) training system to support existing training organizations and consortia as they adapt to evolving challenges due to climate change. Results from this Phase I effort will include a prototype system that will complement existing training and be evaluated for skill transfer under a follow-on Phase II effort. IMPRINT Confined Spaces will enable instructors to provide engaging, realistic, and adaptive intelligent virtual training, improving worker health and safety.

Team-Based Virtual Field Exercises for HAZMAT Training

Application Number Principal Investigator Company
1R43ES035276-01 Bandera, Cesar Cell Podium, LLC

Among the most educationally valuable components of in-person 40-hour HAZMAT courses are team-based field exercises. This capstone activity combines skills and protocols into an experiential exercise in which learners practice different roles (e.g., entry team, decon team, site supervisor) and equipment (e.g., PPE, sensors, communications). Team-based HAZMAT training exercises have been found to yield statistically significant improvements in preparedness when compared to individual non-collaborative training. However, for several reasons, the more frequent 8-hour refresher courses lack team-based field exercises. First, set-up/tear-down time for such an exercise (~1 hour) would consume a significant amount of the 8 hours. Second, in response to pandemic protocols and emerging worker and instructor preferences, training organizations now offer most 8-hour refresher courses virtually in a synchronous online format. Third, HAZMAT video simulators are currently single user games with no interactivity between learners, and require each training organization and learner to install expensive video game software - and sometimes hardware like VR goggles. Instead, instructors use a case study approach whereby certain aspects of a current hazardous waste site are revealed to the students, who then are required to discuss how they would respond. This is far from experiential. The proposed effort develops a web-based teaching tool that brings the pedagogical value of the physical team-based in-person field exercises of 40-hour HAZMAT courses to the virtual 8-hour refresher courses. The proposed experiential worker training tool exploits recent advances in web standards in order to achieve multiple significant innovations. First, it is the first browser-based HAZMAT training tool to provide team-based HAZMAT field exercises. Thus, any person or training organization with a web-enabled device can use the tool, and no installation of hardware or software is required. Second, the training tool is intuitive. Team members in the virtual field exercises communicate via Zoom, which is integrated with the teaching tool. Third, every student experiences her/his individual realistic and immersive 3D view of the common training scenario, including a virtual chemical and radiation exposure sensor. Fourth, as with in- person exercises, the instructor has the ability to dynamically interject events during the exercise, such as change in the intensity of a hazardous spill or on-the-spot questions, to assess students and keep them engaged. This proposal is based on requests from several training and community organizations, including participants of the 2022 Bi-Annual Midwest Consortium Trainer Conference. Cell Podium will work closely with the following five HAZMAT worker training centers to meet their specific requirements and to deploy in their courses several iterations of the prototype teaching tool for evaluation: the Center for Public Health Workforce Development (Rutgers School of Public Health), the Midwest Consortium for Hazardous Waste Worker Training, the Environmental Management Institute (Indiana), the Green Door Initiative (Detroit), and the UCLA Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program. The ultimate goal of the proposed effort is to develop a tool that is adopted by the HAZMAT training community, enriches online training, and improves the preparedness of our HAZMAT workers. With advanced yet low-cost 3D web technologies, the training tool developed and tested by this project will empower HAZMAT instructors to conduct virtual team-based field exercises, and provide workers with the experiential capstone experience and preparedness they currently can only get through in-person 40-hour HAZWOPER courses. This tool will also further improve the quality of training programs that exceed the NIEHS WTP minimum criteria, and differentiate them from programs that do not.